Monday, 21 October 2019

In Pursuit of Truth - Lessons from St John Henry Newman

In Pursuit of Truth

By Simeon Elderfield

Earlier this month on October 13th, around 50,000 people gathered in St Peter’s Square to celebrate the momentous canonisation of 5 new saints into the Catholic Church, including St John Henry Newman. Simeon, a friend of Youth2000 who was present at the canonisation, reflects on the remarkability of St Newman’s life, and the lessons from his pursuit of Truth that we should be inspired to act upon.

St John Henry Newman is to me, one of the more challenging saints that we are presented with in the modern world. It is fortuitous that he has been recently canonised, as hopefully it will bring his ideas and life into the zeitgeist in a way they have not been in a long time. For he was a thoroughly modern man; engaging in intellectual matters, debating publicly, a member of that venerable institution of Oxford University. Whilst a member of the Anglican Communion, he undertook a heroic effort to argue for the rationality of his faith, specifically in the Anglo-Catholic movement which was known as the controversial but engaged Oxford Movement. This was a direct response to the new tide of Liberalism which Newman saw sweeping across Anglicanism, driving it towards Protestantism. This was problematic to Newman because he viewed Anglicanism as a middle way between the excesses of the Catholic Church, and the lack of orthodoxy in the Protestant congregations. 

In his zealotry, I am somewhat reminded of Alexander Hamilton; an immigrant and Founding Father who was responsible for writing many of the Federalist papers arguing for the American Constitution, convincing the public and political establishment to adopt what he saw as the best form of government. He saw as his responsibility the need to be a part in building a new world founded on Truths.

In an analogous way, we can see the passion in Newman’s writings of the Oxford Movement’s Tracts for the Times, documents which set out how he and his fellow 'Tractarians' saw the direction the Anglican Communion ought to move. Indeed, both men saw themselves as being on the forefront of an ideological war; in Hamilton’s case also a literal war. But I'd go so far as to say Newman’s has proven to be pervasive because, although it never became a physical war, it continues to haunt us. For Newman saw himself as fighting the precursor to our modern Materialistic Relativism, an ideology which declared all truths were as valid as each other, and absolutes did not exist. Naturally, he was repulsed by this as it directly contradicted the point of Truth in any form. 

Newman’s journey towards Truth was both stubbornly rational and intensely emotional. Although he can be characterised as a stuffy old academic, that is a huge misunderstanding of who he was. Whilst writing Apologia Pro Vita Sua, he wept as he was forced to expose his spiritual history. His relationships with friends were deep and emotive and his arguments were fuelled by a great imagination as well as intellect. A violinist whose favourite composer was Beethoven, he embraced beauty in the world. Even his motto, Cor ad Cor loquitor, was an absolute example of this. One might assume the intellectual would speak solely to the head, but he understood that it is also the heart God talks from, and so it is the heart we must talk to others through.

In light of this version of Newman, I believe that his legacy confronts the modern Church as well as the Church of his day because he encourages us to follow the journey into Truth without restraint, never being comfortable with the status quo. He followed where he was led by the Spirit. By his example we are called to a self-awareness of our state. He rode high as an Anglican, achieving national renown and prestige but himself commented on the fact that, upon joining the Roman Church, he did not achieve so highly. But as a priest, he was devoted to his flock, serving the poor and fully submerging himself into living out the Truth he professed.

For me, Newman is a good example of how we can be sacrificial in our pursuit of truth. To be honest, one of the reasons I laud him to Modernity is precisely because he didn’t lose his life. Those who were martyred represent the ultimate sacrifice we should be willing to pay, but it is unlikely we will be put in the situation of losing our life. Instead, by virtue of our privilege here in the Western world, we face the enemy of wilful ignorance that tempts us with the easy life of closing our ears to Truth. But we are part of the insurgency now, not the majority and we must be prepared to be radical in building up the world for God’s glory. Newman challenges us to action in a way that only we can. We must be prepared to sacrifice our reputations or ambitions and stand up to be counted as defenders of Truth against the creeping malevolence of Relativism. 

Being at his Canonisation was enormously moving, because it forced me to question how devoted I was to the pursuit of Truth. The answer, is that I am a sinner, and yet God has still given me the grace of seeing a measure of Truth. If I do not use what I am given, languishing in apathy, then I am wilfully ignorant. It convinced me ever more that we must take hold of every opportunity given to us and strive to promote the Truth, not with aggression but by being genuine, honest and faithful. Sacrifice ambition for Truth. Use the tools and talents you have to advance Truth. Share Truth with everyone you meet. Work with the rest of the Church, united in our direction towards God, as it is only when the Body of Christ acts in unity, that it stands strong. Do not be ashamed that you know Truth but never assume you know it all. Indeed, the example we see in St John Henry Newman is in his honesty to himself and humility before God that he knew he was always in pursuit of Truth even to his end.

Where do I think this leaves us? Well, in advocating pursuing Truth, I do leave out what Truth is. But then, that's the easy part. It's written very clearly in the Gospel of John where Jesus identifies Himself as 'the Way, the Truth and the Life’; the ultimate answer to what we are all born searching for. What St John Henry Newman teaches us is what it looks like to make that Truth your life's destination, and how to draw others closer along that journey.

To see more photos from the Canonisation weekend in Rome, check out the following link


Thursday, 3 October 2019

Christianity and the Climate Crisis

by Jacinta Peachey

I was sat in mass on Sunday, not in the best headspace, but nonetheless I was there. My little brother to the right of me, grumpy that he had lost his football match, and my sister to the left of me, very distracted by the “well fit” guy that just walked into church. With a big sigh I thought ‘can we just start already, it’s cold and wet, my siblings are frustrating me and I want to go home’.

As all masses go, we had the readings, the Gospel and then Father stood up to deliver his homily. He opened his homily saying “a young girl, Greta Thunberg, has caused quite the storm in the media recently”. I looked over and smiled at my sister as if to say ‘here we go…’.

Father surprised me and spoke in support of the work of Greta Thunberg, describing how she has rallied for environmental awareness, and praised her efforts and impact. He then spoke of Extinct Rebellion (if you are unaware, Extinct Rebellion are group who use “non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction”). Father explained that while Greta Thunberg talks about hope, Extinct Rebellion use words like “mass extinction” and “social collapse”.

We cannot hide from the fact that there is evidentially an issue with our crisis, Thunberg says “I want you to act as if the house if on fire, because it is”. 2,240,000 acres of the Amazon rainforest has recently burned caused by a ‘slash-and-burn’ approach to deforest land for agriculture and effects of climate change. Antarctica’s ice is melting at a scary rate, and our oceans are FULL of plastic. Greta Thunberg is campaigning for change; that we, companies and consumers don’t “sacrifice priceless values” to continue to make unimaginable amounts of money and to satisfy our consumer wants.  

Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 16: 19-31) told the story of the Lazarus, a beggar who lay at the gates of a rich man clothed in fine linen, who feasted sumptuously every day. When both men died, Lazarus joined Abraham in heaven, and the rich man was buried in hell. The rich man cried out asking Abraham to send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool his tongue. Abraham replied “Son, remember that in your lifetime you were given all good things, while Lazarus got all the bad things. But now he is enjoying himself here, while you are in pain.” The rich man pleads to Abraham, that Lazarus go down to his father’s house to warn his brothers, so that they may not come “to this place of pain”. But Abraham responds to say that his brothers have Moses to warn them, and that if they will not listen to Moses then will not be convinced even if someone were to rise from dead.

(Stay with me here, I’m about to make the link).

See Moses gave us the Ten Commandments sent from God, to warn us of gluttony, habitual greed, excess in eating and consuming more than we require. God gave us the Ten Commandments to live by, to govern our lives. I like many try to live a good and holy life, but fail relentlessly, but we have a forgiving God who brought us out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (see Exodus 20:2). We have a God who performs miracles, who bears children to those past childbearing age (see Hebrews 11:11). We have a God who “in all things works for the good of those who love Him” (see Romans 8:28-29). We have a God who loves us, and who will not allow us to suffer for He has given us Hope.

Hope, our main theme for the recent Walsingham Festival 2019, allows us to come into His eternal glory, allows us to reap from eternal life. “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8).

Like Greta Thunberg, we can hope for our world, we can share the Good News. Our world is full of pessimistic views; opinions of destruction and extinction, but we have the opportunity of external life. As Christians we must spread the Good News in our daily lives, and that can start with something as simple as respecting the earth that Our Lord created for us. We can (and should) obey the Ten Commandments, not being greedy or gluttonous. We must find hope within ourselves and share that hope with others, for “how can they believe if they have not heard the message?” (see Romans 10:14).

This Friday, 4th October is CAFOD Family Fast Day. By fasting we can donate the money that we would have spent on food, to CAFOD who are working to feed those less fortunate than ourselves*. We can learn from the young, like Greta Thunberg who are hopeful for a better future; a future that begins with change. We should make an effort this Friday and from now on to change our gluttonous and sinful ways; reduce the use of packaging and single use plastics, abstain from meat on Fridays, recycle correctly and research how we can make a positive impact on the environment. As Christians we are very responsible for our environmental footprint, and we should be taking campaigns, such as Greta Thunberg’s, seriously in order to respect the house God created for us.

Isaiah 40:31 – "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint”. 

*For more information on how to get involved for CAFOD Fast Day, see:

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Nothing Stands Between Us - John Mark McMillan

by Leo Wheelan

Worship song reflection of the Month:

Nothing Stands Between Us - John Mark McMillan

In his song, Nothing Stands Between Us, I believe John Mark McMillan expounds on two ideas about encounter with God. Firstly, that the power and beauty of nature fills us with a sense of awe and wonder which reflects the greatness of its creator. And, secondly, that this experience ought to move and encourage us to find time for silence in our lives where, through prayer, we can enter into relationship with Him.

The song begins – strangely enough – with the first verse:

‘River of gladness, fill my soul

Jesus, you're my greatest thought
God, I know
I see the light
I see the lightning
I hear Your voice
Inside the cracking thunder, singing’

I think the ‘River of gladness’ is a nod to Psalm 46:4: ‘There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells’.
This river represents the source of all our joy and McMillan pleads with it to well up within him. He recognizes that we need to look beyond our world and to God in order to find a lasting joy. He then notes that our greatest thought, our greatest aim, is to be more Christ-like. We do this essentially through prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes prayer as ‘the raising of one’s mind and heart to God’.  It follows that whenever our thoughts are lifted towards God, we are engaging in prayer, in dialogue, with Him. The moments in life where we are captivated by beauty – seeing a star-studded night time sky or hearing the Emperor concerto for the first time (go on, check it out – it could be the best forty minutes of your day) – are lasting and formative experiences precisely because within them lies an encounter with God. McMillan hears God’s voice ‘inside the cracking thunder’, within nature herself, calling him to that encounter.

Featuring heavy use of the musical device of repetition, the chorus then proclaims:

‘Nothing stands between us, oh

nothing stands between us but love now.
Nothing stands between us, oh
nothing stands between us but love'

This imagery typifies a homecoming moment, a realisation on McMillan’s part that God has always been waiting for him to simply turn his heart towards Him in prayer. And He’s always waiting for us to do the same. Though it has to be said, it’s a very bold claim. I find that time and again, I can feel unworthy of God’s love, through my own insecurities, doubts and failures. Henri J.M. Nouwen, in his book ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ (which I highly recommend), points out that ‘one of the greatest challenges in life is to receive God’s forgiveness.’ God can often remain for me a harsh and judgmental God, one who demands everything of me and causes me to worry whenever I stumble. This is simply not the reality of God’s nature, and I find I need reminding of the fact that, through the Cross, there is nothing that can stand between us, but love.

The second verse is musically similar to the first, with the only lyrical alteration found in the first two lines:

‘River of gladness take control,

there’s a cup of joy for every taste of sorrow.’

Within these lines can be found advice that can change an entire outlook on life. When we get caught up in our own trials, however great or small, it is so easy to become bitter and resentful. This is obviously not a place that anyone wishes to be in, and so McMillan rightly points out that despite every difficulty, trial or tribulation, we have so much to be thankful for. I do not wish to minimise or make light of some of the great suffering which some people have endured, but to point out that it is incumbent upon each of us to take up our cross with joy. That way, you make manifest the ‘River of gladness’ in your daily life in a way that transforms you and ‘makes glad the city of God’.

The lyrics of the final movement of the piece are as follows:

‘Have I tried to scale Your walls in vain?

To cross your seas I pushed against your waves.
What for all the miles have You to say?
Were You there beside me this whole way?
You always find me
In between the thunder and the lightning.’

This penultimate stanza speaks of a personal vision of who God is for us. Do we completely trust His sovereignty, or do we put other gods before Him? Are there things taking up residence in our hearts where only God should be? A relationship, your new house or even yourself? Whatever these things might be, I believe they prevent us from handing our lives over to Him, which in turn limits the action of God’s grace in our lives.

If this song could be likened to a long family car journey home, then the questions raised in the second to last stanza could describe the final few miles. After bickering over who sits where, endless arguments over who saw the yellow car first, tears about the last pack of sweets etc., we as children realise that mum and dad have wanted nothing but to get us there safely. We’ve put ourselves in the centre of our own universe for the entirety of the journey before even considering where we are going and what we can do to help get ourselves there. So often this is the case for me with God, too. I neglect to turn to Him in thanksgiving for this great gift of life; I fail to seek His guidance in where I am going and I hurt the people around me in the process.

This is why it is so crucial, in the busyness of life, to make time for silent prayer and contemplation. We can begin to apprehend God in the beauty of the natural world or a work of art, but this experience is only supposed to direct our thoughts higher towards a prayerful relationship with Him. McMillan conveys the idea that God always seeks us first, before we have even considered approaching Him. We can become aware of His majesty in the terrifying flash of lightning and the deep rumble of thunder, but the place that He truly finds us is between them, in the stillness and silence.


Monday, 28 January 2019

Saint Thomas Aquinas - January Saint of the Month

By Luca McQuillian

Saint Profile:
Name: St Thomas Aquinas
Also known as: The Angelic Doctor, Doctor of Doctors
Feast Day: January 28th
Patron saint of: Students, Theologians,Philosophers
Canonized by: Pope John XXII

Why St Thomas?

St Thomas Aquinas is a legend. That much has to be said at the outset. His extensive and impressive works have not only inspired many theologians and philosophers but they have a foundation in the teachings of the Church itself.  After St. Augustine, he is the most quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In fact, he is the ONLY person prescribed to us by the Church in the Code of Canon Law (1983) in connection with the study of theology – this means that the Church itself recommends him by name. “Students are to learn to penetrate more intimately the mysteries of salvation, especially with St. Thomas as a teacher.”
However, being proclaimed so eminently by the Church has been for good reason. His incredible mind was coupled with a high degree of sanctity which together made him earn the title Angelic Doctor.

Who is he?

Born in 1225 as the youngest of a rich family in Italy, St Thomas grew up being educated by Benedictines in Monte Cassino and sent to the University of Naples very early on. During his studies, he was heavily inspired by several philosophers including Aristole, and was also significantly influenced by a Dominian preacher called St. Julian, who encouraged him to join the Dominican Order. However, when his parents heard of it they were unhappy about this vocation, and locked him away in the castle of Roccasecca for a year. His brothers even went as far as locking a prostitute in the room with him in order to seduce him. St Thomas, however, chased the woman away with a hot iron rod and so preserved his purity – it is on account of this that it is said that angels came and girded him to preserve his chastity perpetually. His family finally gave in and allowed him to escape after which St Thomas, faithfully as a Dominican continued his studies.

He was a quiet student, and as a consequence some thought he was slow, calling him a “Dumb Ox”. Ironically only a few years later he began to teach in Cologne, Paris, Naples and finally was summoned to Rome to serve as a papal theologian, all the while writing books which are still read today. It was during this time that he wrote his most famous work, the Summa Theologiae, originally his lecture notes for beginners in theology. Within it, one of his striking comments included “a doctor of Catholic truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but to him pertains also to instruct beginners”. He also wrote many of the most beautiful hymns that are still sung in honour of the Blessed Sacrament: Anima Christi, O Salutaris Hostia, Tantum Ergo…

Near the end of his life St Thomas had an encounter with Christ while in prayer. No one fully knows what happened but afterwards he abandoned his writing (leaving the Summa Theologiae still unfinished) and when asked why, he would reply that everything he had written is like straw compared to the reality of his experience.

In May 1274 St Thomas was called to the Second Council of Lyon but fell ill on the way and eventually died. Pope Pius V canonized him in 1323 and declared him a Doctor of the Church.

How has St Thomas inspired you?

As a student of Catholic theology for a number of years, I am indebted to his intelligence and wisdom in helping me to delve deeper into the mysteries of the faith. I love to study, and I love when things make sense. His logical and reasoned approach has allowed me to understand more and more how perfectly faith and reason go hand in hand. If anyone doubted this they would just have to read one of his works, or perhaps for those unseasoned with his terminology, the work of a contemporary writer who explains St Thomas.

Reading the Summa, for example, can be a bit raw, but having it explained opens up a whole depth to the mysteries of the faith. Delving deeper and deeper St Thomas seems to leave no question unanswered. Learning how much more there is to our faith and how I all fits in so perfectly has opened my eyes in unimaginable ways and has helped my own spiritual life grow.

Why is he relevant NOW?

"To those who have faith, no explanation is necessary. To those without faith, no explanation is possible" - St Thomas Aquinas

St Thomas Aquinas is such an important saint to get to know and reflect on, especially in these times. People want rational explanations for everything; they want reason to be the starting point; they want authentic truth. There are many intellectuals out there who know a lot about other things, but they too, seek the answers for what really matters. St Thomas is relevant, for this is the direction his discourses take. Indeed, as St. John Paul II said; “Saint Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth.”

As Catholics we ourselves should always be seeking the truth and striving to understand it better. Like St Thomas, we should educate ourselves in the mysteries of the faith, and through it, deepen our own trust and relationship with God. 

St Thomas also answers the many of the questions that Catholics are asked in a way that is clear and truthful, as St Pius X wrote, St Thomas’ “divine genius fashioned weapons marvellously suited to protect the truth and destroy the many errors of the times.” Many of the errors that St Thomas was combatting have come back, disguised under other names and with slight changes; his words hold relevant for them too. Indeed, we are living in a time where the world often tries to tell us that what is wrong still feels 'right', and Christian truths on several topics are too often silenced or repressed.

Like St Thomas, we must be aware that these errors must be destroyed by the truth. We must fight with sanctity and true knowledge, and be willing to stand up for what is right - for these are the weapons of light that will bring Jesus into the heart of our brothers and sisters.

3 Lessons from St Thomas:
  • Love God first, in all that you do
  • Love the Bible and have an extensive knowledge of it (the word of God is a powerful weapon)
  • Study well, it is a gift from God for you to be able to learn and by studying well you can glorify God in it.

St. Thomas Aquinas prayer for Students
(he himself used to recite this)

“Grant me, O Lord my God,
a mind to know you,
a heart to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
conduct pleasing to you,
faithful perseverance in waiting for you,
and a hope of finally embracing you.”

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